Did you know that car accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans travelling abroad? If you’re visiting the United Kingdom — or another country where it’s necessary to drive on the “other” side of the road — consider your options carefully. Be sure to research the public transport options before deciding whether or not to hire a car, especially if you plan on staying within major cities. If you decide to hire a car and head out into the countryside and see what else the UK has to offer (and by the way, there is a lot), there are a few things you should be aware of. As a Brit who has driven for over 13 years, here are my suggestions regarding how to make your journey easier.
You’re on the wrong side of the car too
For lefties, this might come as welcome news, particularly if you’ll be driving using a gear sick as we call it over here or as Americans call it – a stick shift, automatic cars in the UK are not the norm, especially when it comes to hire cars. For anyone else, it can be daunting. Familiarise yourself with the new configuration before hitting the road. Take your time and practice in a car park (parking lot) or side street until you’re reasonably comfortable. It’s better to prepare yourself than get caught in an accident from making a mistake.
Beware the roundabouts
Let’s say you’re fine with using the gear stick and with driving from what usually passes for the passenger seat — you don’t even have a problem driving down the opposite side of the road. You should also be aware that the intersections won’t follow the same grid pattern that they do in America. More often than not, you’ll come across a roundabout — often called a “rotary” in the U.S. This is especially nerve-racking if you aren’t sure exactly where you’re going. Have your travelling companion keep a map handy. If your mobile phone has an international data plan, use its navigation service whenever you can or simply hire a car with a built-in sat nav system and always remember to give way to the right!
What to do in case of an accident
Accidents can happen, even to the most cautious of motorists. If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing to remember is – don’t panic. The protocol is much the same pretty much everywhere.
Before making the trip, familiarise yourself with your insurance policy so you’ll know what is and isn’t covered. If you’re using a major credit card for your rental, the company will often provide additional provisions. Make sure you review all of this before leaving home.
If you’re involved in an accident and if anyone is injured, be sure to call 999 (in the UK) and tell the operator that you’ll need an ambulance. Next, take down the information of everyone involved — their names and addresses; vehicle makes, models, and plate numbers; and insurance policy information. Take pictures of the damage for reference.
Finally, contact your insurance company to alert them to the accident. They’ll advise you on what unique steps you may need to take next if any. Travel insurance can also be helpful for coping with the consequences. Legal action may be necessary if the damages are filed wrongfully, and/or the accident involved loss of life.
We hope that if you decide to drive over here in the UK you have a smooth and easy experience. However, please remember our practical steps. For us driving elsewhere, we also have the same problems of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road but as with most things in life – practice makes perfect(ish!)